My mother was an upright piano, spine erect, lid tightly closed, unplayable except by the maestro. My father was not the maestro. My father was the piano tuner; technically expert, he never made her sing. It was someone else’s husband who turned her into a baby Grand.
How did I know? She told me. During the last weeks, when she was bent, lid slightly open, ivories yellowed.
“Every Tuesday,” she said. “Midday. A knock at the door.”
The first time, I froze. A grown woman myself, I listened to my mother talk and was back playing with dolls and wasps’ nests. I cut my visit short. My mother didn’t notice. She’d already fallen asleep.
The second time, I asked questions.
“Mother,” I said. “He….came round. On Tuesdays. How many?”
“We are fallen stars, he said to me,” whispered my mother, the formerly-upright piano. “You and me, he said. And then he would take my hand.” She closed her eyes, smiled.
My father, the tuner, never took anyone’s hand. He was sharp, efficient. I searched my mother’s face for another hint or instruction.“Should I find myself one?” I wanted to ask. “A fallen star? A maestro? Am I like you?” But she had stopped talking and begun to snore gently. I sat with her, watching the rise and fall of her chest and the way her fingers fluttered in her lap, longing for arpeggios to dance across my stiffening keys.
“My Mother Was An Upright Piano” was originally published in The Binnacle, print journal, 2009 (no longer in existence).
It won the Binnacle Ultra-Short Contest 2009, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and broadcast on BBC Radio 4 as part of a week of ‘Tania Hershman’s flash fiction’. It is the title story of Tania Hershman’s flash collection, “My Mother Was An Upright Piano” available from Tangent Books!
FEATURED IMAGE: Anita Burgermeister “Piano With High Heel” (2008)
Anita Burgermeister is a multi media artist, photographer, muralist, art blog writer, and piano teacher based in Milwaukee, Wisconsin USA.
Tania Hershman's poetry pamphlet, How High Did She Fly, was joint winner of Live Canon's 2019 Poetry Pamphlet Competition and was published in Nov 2019, and her hybrid particle-physics-inspired book 'and what if we were all allowed to disappear' was published by Guillemot Press in March 2020. Tania is also the author of a poetry collection, a poetry chapbook and three short story collections, and co-author of Writing Short Stories: A Writers' & Artists' Companion (Bloomsbury, 2014). She is co-creator of the @OnThisDayShe Twitter account, co-author of the On This Day She book (John Blake, 2021), and has a PhD in creative writing inspired by particle physics. www.taniahershman.com
Photo Credit: Naomi Woddis